Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blog It: New Wave of New Wave

Dates: Jan 19 – Mar 1, 2008
Venue: Chambers Fine Art Beijing
( Red No.1-D, Caochangdi, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100015, China)

Artists: Guo Hongwei, Tang Yi, Shi Jing, Zhang Jungang
Curator: Leo Xu

Blog it firstly appeared as a tiny button on Google’s toolbar for internet browsers. Once you click on it, you then get redirected to the editing page where what you were reading on the browser can be blogged and shared online with many others—that’s one of basic approaches of blog writing. Stemming from the private online diaries and grass-root journalism writing of the early days, blogging or blog writing has been generalized into each single aspect of individual expression in the era of Web 2.0. And in China blog—initially a western import enjoyed only by some IT elites and within quite a small circuit of netizens—has been boosted overnight by domestic portals like and in a mere couple of years has been adopted by an ever growing population ranging from celebrities, artists, and business moguls to a wider public, as an open platform to communicate with everybody else. The current function of blog involves more than news coverage, personal diary, an individual’s emotional outlet, celebrities’ online PR campaigns, tourist’s journals, and gossip, etc. Hence, blogging has been forging a new genre of writing and visual language through its worldwide participants and the off-beat presentation of text, picture, sound and video. Since blog and its Web 2.0 followers such as youtube, myspace, flickr become omnipresent either in the virtual world or in real life, those of us who are probably both bloggers and readers have to update our previous way of reading, perceiving, understanding and expression in order to catch up. And the spirit of blogging, if there is such a thing, is to define your own way of observing facts, receiving information, speaking out rather than merely running a blog.

For artists, even those not working with new media and net-art, blogging can still be inspiring and encouraging in creating a new aesthetic and narrative. The flood of online posts and updates on one single social happening can be far more mind-boggling than any complex narrative by Jorge Luis Borges. The never predictable use and manipulation of images expands the definition of kitsch and deadpan aesthetics. Today from the Internet community to ordinary citizens, it is not only language that finds itself drastically revolutionized by the spawning abbreviations and acronyms as well as Internet slang and rhetoric, but also the diversity of art and culture which is made possible with the efforts of this blogging community throughout the world. Living through this Web 2.0 age, a younger generation of Chinese artists, whether they blog or just read blogs, are thrilled to be able to speak in their own voices, whilst they may still keep learning to survive amidst tides of the refreshing aesthetics and concepts which were and probably are not shared by their precursors. Created in such a context their work seems to drop those stereotypical images anticipated or favored by the West, presumed radical symbols of a New China, big-eyed eye-candies of a short-lived cartoon-inspired generation.

To examine the art of this generation riding the Web 2.0 wave, Blog It: New Wave of New Wave chooses to showcase the latest output by emerging artists working in three traditional disciplines: photography, painting and drawing.

1. Blogger-photographer
Soon after the international art-world discovered New Chinese Photography more than ten years ago, the internet community is witnessing the undercurrent steered by many art students, non-artists or more exactly bloggers. Harbing-based blogger Zhang Jungang takes photos that look alien to the New Chinese Photography which largely serves as documentation of artists’ performance and conceptual installations. As a self-taught photographer, Zhang studied photography from the Internet, from well-informed blogs like Conscientious and artist’s blogs like Alex Soth’s. Back then around 2000, online posting of photos became quite a fashion among netizens, and many western contemporary photographers’ work happened to knock open China’s door on the net. Wolfgang Tillmans’ novelistic account of youngsters’ lifestyles, Thomas Struth’s deadpan portraits and landscapes, and Daido Moriyama’s loosely composed candid shots were all widely blogged and influenced those who later refused to follow the simple-click photoshop approach or the shooting-the-performance school, but returned instead to the very root of photography per se—release the shutter and shoot what you see. Probably without ever having seen any exhibitions by these western artists, Zhang picked up a similar lexicon through online reading and directed his lens at his hometown Harbing and China’s cosmopolitan city Shanghai where he had briefly lived. What emerged from his cameras are episodes of coming-of-age stories beautifully depicted but told in a nostalgic tone. Those photographs compensate for the void of recognizable human content in much of the prior New Photography movement and bring back to the foreground topics that had been overlooked, for example youth culture.

2. Blog on canvas/paper
Since its inception Blogging has played a supportive role in encouraging individuals to document their personal experience, if not necessarily to give a journalistic view or critique. As a result, a number of diaries and autobiographical blogs emerged and became quite a phenomenon by gaining a cult following. Nourished by this kind of blog-esque narrative, some 20ish artists started to blog on canvas, so to speak. They employ what they may encounter on the net —text or images—to assist their painterly paraphrases of their memories. Guo Hongwei is among this generation. Guo paints his found images—especially boys and girls dressed in the fashion of 1980s, the decade that coincided with his boyhood—in black and white, and then blurs some of the strokes with drops of water and oil to achieve effects reminiscent of timeworn family albums; or for many netizens, it echoes the make-it-old trend of Photoshop manipulation recurrent in many photo-blogs, a kind of internet nostalgia popular among youngsters. Unlike his paintings with a yesterday-once-more effect, Guo’s hilarious drawings are more in tune with works by his global contemporaries, be they artists or non-artists (sometimes designers and bloggers not working in art). Humorous depictions of daily objects and cartoon-like portraits of teenagers become another reincarnation of the bloggers’ life.

3. Post-cartoon generation
No one will doubt that Tang Yi could start her second career as a youtube–era video maker or animator if she chose to leave canvas and brushes for a while as her paintings draw on online images/videos and have a remarkable cinematic quality. It is easy to see how in a time when there is free access to the formerly downloading service and now new products like youtube-a full click-and-view archives of films and videos, including artists’ works, TV commercials, music videos, fans’ parodies and family videos, it might be nearly impossible to escape the influence of the deluge of images. If underground copies of manga in the 1990s gave rise to the Cartoon Generation in the early years of this decade, then today the peers of this Cartoon Generation benefit from resources in the cyber world. This generation indulges itself in seas of video clips or podcasts, with which they not only entertain themselves but also, unintentionally perhaps, achieve their own visual language. That may explain why Tang works like a contemporary Zelig, first adopting the eerie storytelling of David Lynch, then shifting to mimicking the style of Discovery and later winding up painting a Japanese animation scene.

4. Informative labyrinth
The over-saturation of information in the Web 2.0 age complicates people’s reading. A happening can end up with millions of interpretations. The blogger covers the event from his own perspective while the reader chooses his own way to see it—actually both of them are trying to find an angle to study the truth. Following the centuries long exploration of the painter-viewer relationship and ways of seeing headed by artists like Velazquez, Shi Jing goes a bit further to address the modern way of perceiving information—similar to but not necessarily affected by the Web 2.0—rather than practicing a painterly methodology. Shi paints and yet conceals images on the canvas. Su Shi (1037-1101) described how a mountain looked from differently angles as Horizontally a peak and vertically a range. Likewise, the hidden information on Shi Jing’s canvas can be only revealed if it is observed from a specific angle; otherwise, his work looks like a blank canvas covered with abstract strokes. When Shi’s version of a Rembrandt self-portrait plays peek-a-boo with viewers, the latter are involved in the identical issue raised by Web 2.0 phenomenon on studying the truth—to detect the sources of real information within the informational labyrinth.

The new wave of new wave emerging from the Chinese art scene, though not technically related to the blog, parallels the Web 2.0 trend as the latter has created a more relaxed atmosphere for young Chinese and leads to an attitude that can be properly described as blog it. In this sense, blog is a means to synchronize (a jargon in blogging) with the ever-changing world and to express yourself and make your own point.

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Is this the first entry of Beijing Art Chase? ;)

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